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Barium X-rays


Updated June 16, 2014

Photo by A.D.A.M.

Barium X-ray


Barium x-rays, also known as barium swallow, are diagnostic x-rays in which barium is used to diagnose abnormalities of the digestive tract. The patient drinks a chalky colored liquid that contains barium. It coats the walls of the esophagus and stomach, and is visible on x-rays. A person reading the x-ray can then see if there are strictures, ulcers, hiatal hernias, erosions or other abnormalities.

This test is not sensitive enough to be used as a reliable diagnostic test for GERD. It is used more often in patients who are experiencing difficulty with swallowing.

What can be expected if the doctor orders barium x-rays?

These tests are usually done on an outpatient basis at the hospital, in the radiology department, and generally follow the process listed below.
  • The patient is asked not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the night before the exam.

  • The patient stands against an upright x-ray table in front of a fluoroscope, a device that will immediately show a moving picture. The patient then drinks the barium liquid and swallow baking soda crystals. The radiologist can watch the barium flow through the digestive tract. The patient may be asked to move into different positions while the x-rays are taken so the doctor can observe the barium from different angles as it travels down the esophagus and into the stomach.

  • Since barium may cause constipation, the patient is advised to drink plenty of fluids and eat high-fiber foods for the next day or two until the barium passes from the body.


Other diagnostic tests:


"Heartburn? Could It Be GERD? Understanding Heartburn and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." AN417/AGA/GERD/Booklet 12/3/03. American Gastroenterological Association. 1 Feb 2007 <http://www.gastro.org/user-assets/Documents/GERDBooklet.pdf>.

Costas H. Kefalas, M.D., "GI Radiographic Tests." The American College of Gastroenterology. 1 Feb 2007 <>.

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